Chicago Sun-Times

Bowie oblit­er­ates bound­aries on his blaz­ing ‘Black­star’

- DAVID BOWIE Entertainment · Musicians · Celebrities · Music · David Bowie · Iceland · Austria · Colombia · Belgium · Tony Visconti

Has there ever been a pop star cooler than David Bowie? Through a ca­reer span­ning nearly 50 years and a wide as­sort­ment of styles and gen­res— in­clud­ing a few he helped pioneer— this mul­ti­fac­eted artist and per­son­al­ity has con­tin­ued to pique our cu­rios­ity with­out com­pro­mis­ing or em­bar­rass­ing him­self.

Not all of Bowie’s projects have been mind-blow­ing, of course; but his lat­est al­bum, Black­star— out Fri­day, his 69th birth­day— is an un­qual­i­fied tri­umph. Tex­tu­rally ad­ven­tur­ous, son­i­cally stun­ning and full of both am­biva­lence and yearn­ing, it re­veals a mu­si­cian who has sel­dom ac­knowl­edged bound­aries or courted ac­ces­si­bil­ity in top form, with most ac­ces­si­ble re­sults.

Pro­duced by Bowie and long­time col­league Tony Vis­conti,

Black­star sprang from a pe­riod of in­tense cre­ativ­ity: De­cem­ber marked the off-Broad­way open­ing of Lazarus, amu­si­cal Bowie cowrote with Ir­ish play­wright Enda Walsh and in­spired by the novel

The Man Who Fell to Earth— the source ma­te­rial for the 1976 film of the same name, which starred Bowie as an alien on a lonely mis­sion. The al­bum fea­tures a song used in the show, the sin­gle

Lazarus, a six-min­utes-plus scorcher with pierc­ing, crash­ing gui­tar riffs and mourn­ful sax­o­phone lines that at one point segue to a ca­cophonous wail.

Dis­so­nance and melodic pull co-ex­ist, ra­di­antly, through­out

Black­star. On the ti­tle track, which clocks in at just un­der 10 min­utes (most of the seven tunes are about half that length), syn­co­pated drums re­ver­ber­ate fran­ti­cally in an East­ern-fla­vored ar­range­ment that nods to jazz (a cen­tral in­flu­ence on the al­bum), elec­tron­ica and sym­phonic rock. There’s more sax (cour­tesy of Donny McCaslin, one of the al­bum’s MVPs), along with surg­ing synth chords and strains of flute; a trippy bridge fea­tures stately strings, ar­ranged by Bowie, who sings, “I want ea­gles inmy day­dreams and di­a­monds inmy eyes.”

By which Bowie means ... well, who knows, ex­actly? Elu­sive­ness has al­ways been cen­tral to his ap­peal, en­abling him to adopt al­ter egos and use other the­atri­cal and ironic ges­tures with­out sac­ri­fic­ing emo­tional ur­gency. If the lyrics on Black­star can be enig­matic, the mu­sic is any­thing but, as­sault­ing and em­brac­ing the lis­tener with direct and ir­re­sistible force. ’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore comes at us with a re­lent­less groove, offering long, wild in­stru­men­tal pas­sages.

Dol­lar Days is warmer and more bit­ter­sweet, with ca­ress­ing acous­tic gui­tar and pi­ano. On I Can’t Give Ev­ery­thing Away, gui­tars and key­boards swell over a des­o­late re­frain, build­ing with other in­stru­ments to a soaring cli­max.

“I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen,” Bowie sings in Lazarus.

Black­star reaf­firms both his gift for flash and the soul­ful­ness that sus­tains it — the fire un­der his chilly ex­te­rior, which by all in­di­ca­tions is burn­ing as brightly as ever.


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